Category Archives: Blogging

Weekly Devotional 4 (Luke 21:5-19)

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
   The Gospel reading for November 17 in the Revised Common Lectionary is Luke 21:5-19. This is one of those weeks where the lectionary, and most of the subtitles of modern printed Bibles, do a disservice to the text. Many Bibles separate verses 1-4 from the story we have for today, which is a huge mistake. In fact, to truly see this passage and its power, the reader should go back to at least 20:45.
   But first, let’s look at the passage the lectionary gives us. In verses 5-19 Jesus predicts not only the Temple’s fate, which is disastrous, but also predicts the coming troubles for those who follow him. Verse 5 opens with people talking about the beauty of the Temple. Jesus responds that this beautiful structure will all come crashing down. What’s more, in the coming days things are going to get worse. He reminds his followers that remaining faithful to him will come at great cost. Many of the things Jesus mentions, earthquakes, famine, and epidemics were not altogether uncommon. These things however, were often interpreted as signs of God’s punishing judgment. Instead, Jesus is reminding them that even in the midst of trial, God’s plan is still unfolding. The disasters are not a sign of God’s wrath, but instead should serve as reminder’s of Jesus’ predictions. The disciples could take comfort in the midst of disaster knowing that their God is still with them.
   Of course, the destruction of the Temple did occur some 40 years later. It is difficult to overstate the trauma of this event, even to the early Christian church. Instead of seeing it as a disaster though, followers of Christ were called to see even this devastation as a sign that God was working in the world – not causing the destruction, but working even through such destruction to bring God’s Kingdom.
   Now, let’s get back to verses 1-4. This is known as “the widow’s offering.” Jesus saw a widow give the last of what she had to the Temple. In the very next scene, the people are marveling at its beauty. Jesus did not see its beauty – although it was quite magnificent. Instead, he only saw an institution that was taking a widow’s last coins. The beauty of the outside of the institution did not match the fruit that it was bearing. Instead of being a place where people were inspired to care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien, it was a place where marginalized were pushed farther away. In the verses immediately before the widow’s offering, Jesus warned against those who “cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers.”
   The widow’s offering and the beauty of the Temple served as a perfect object lesson for Jesus, and it should serve as a timely warning for us in the grand temples of Methodism today. We live in an institution that has appeared to have a beautiful facade. It is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. There are great cathedrals in our cities, first churches in our towns, General Boards and Agencies that wield power and influence. The Cross and the Flame is indeed a beautiful ornament dedicated to God. Perhaps on the inside though, something has been ill. Does the fruit of exclusion match the fruit that Christ calls us to bear?
   Jesus’ prediction against the Temple came on the heels of witnessing first hand the “devouring of widow’s homes.” What would he say about the Church who continues to marginalize and do harm to our LGBTQ siblings?

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Weekly Devotional 1 (Luke 18:9-14)

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
The lectionary texts for October 27 include Luke 18:9-14. This is Jesus’ parable about two people praying: the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus told this story about two people praying to a group who “convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust” (Luke 18:9 Common English Bible).
The prayers of these two are vastly different, but in one important way they are alike. They are both praying the Psalms. The Pharisee is praying Psalm 17:3-5 “If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress…” The tax collector is praying Psalm 51:1 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy…”
The mistake the Pharisee makes is when he compares himself to the other. He creates a hierarchy, placing himself above the tax collector. Jesus’ Kingdom is not about hierarchy. It is not about social strata, or placing one above the other. Like Mary had sung in the beginning of the Gospel “He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” (Luke 1:52-53)
Like most parables, we are invited to see ourselves in these characters. It is easy to see yourself as the tax collector and others as the Pharisee. The surprising thing is though, that while the tax collector is “justified,” the Pharisee is not condemned by Jesus. The high is brought low, but not cast out. We must be careful in these divisive times, realizing that both progressives and conservatives can fall into the trap of the Pharisee:
  • Thank God I am not that godless, politically correct, unrealistic liberal…
  • Thank God I am not that close-minded, judgmental conservative…
Instead, focus our prayers on our own shortcomings, our own sin, our own celebrations, triumphs, and victories. This does not mean we ignore others, but we never place ourselves above others. God does not pick and choose. God welcomes and loves all.
PRAYER: O God, show mercy to us, sinners all. Forgive us for missing the mark of your love. Forgive us for the times we have looked upon others with scorn, disgust, or apathy. Help us to see others as fellow pilgrims to be encouraged, not as sinners to be condemned. Empower us to be righteous without being self-righteous. Strengthen us in our weakness, and help us to see all humanity as beloved and created in your image. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

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2014 #AdventRun Results

advent run radius

 

The 2014 Advent Run is over, and the results were overwhelming. As a way to promote healthy living over a period that is often frought with bad habits, the Fadvent run resultsat Pastor and Pulpit Fiction teamed up to make a Virtual Run to Bethlehem. The second annual Advent Run started on Thanksgiving Day, when we opened up the link to submit miles run or walked.

We set three goals, our basic goal, our 2013 goal, and our extended goal. All three were surpassed during the first week.

2014 Goals:

  • Basic Goal: Nazareth to Bethlehem, 103 miles
  • 2013 Total: 27 runners. 233 miles.
  • Extended Goal: Narareth to Bethlehem to Egypt, 333 miles.

2014 Results:

70 Participants

22 states

3 countries

2143 miles.

In other words, if we started in Nazareth, we could have made 10 round trips to Bethlehem.

If you put the compass point in Nazareth, a 2141 mile radius includes parts of Sweden, England, India, Kenya, Morocco, Spain, and England.

One of the things that made this Advent Run special was the ability to be a part of a group. Below are the results of the group runs. The group The Good Race, which seemed to be based in Virginia, had the most participants and the most total miles. The group from Traveler’s Rest United Methodist Church had pastor Jonathan Tompkins add 6 miles, and Kyle paced the entire Advent Run with 209 miles. Pulpit Fiction hosts Robb and Eric combined for 36 miles.

Thanks everyone for participating.

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group results

 

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I’ve gained 10 pounds, and I’m okay with it.

20140203-095440.jpgAfter spending a year losing 80 pounds, I have spent the last year putting back on 10.  And I’m okay with that.  I was extremely proud of the transformation I experienced in 2012.  From seeing the scale tip 329 to weighing in at 249, I changed more than my body.  In fact, the transformation I experienced was never about my body alone.  It was about how I felt and how I lived.

My joy came from more than a before and after photo.  It came from knowing that my life span had probably been significantly extended.  It came from the energy with which I woke every morning.  It came from being able to run a 5K in under 27 minutes, and dreams of finishing a marathon that suddenly seemed within reach.  It came from living a more disciplined life, one that was full of more healthy choices, and habits that were life-giving. Above all, my joy came from my daughters, one of whom told me, “I’m glad you are healthier and your belly is smaller, but don’t make it go away completely, I like a little softness to snuggle.”

before between after stillMy fitness journey has been well chronicled on this site.  I started this blog in October 2008, when I tipped the scale at 301 pounds.  I said from day one that the journey was about more than weight, but it was that moment staring at a milestone I never wanted to cross that pushed me to start – and name – this blog.

Since losing 80 pounds, I decided to keep calling myself the “Fat Pastor,” because I knew that fitness wasn’t a destination to reach.  It is a life.  The name of this blog reminds me every day to make fit choices.  And that’s why I’m okay with having gained back 10-15 pounds over the last year.  In my mind fitness is not linked directly to my weight.

Some might think I’m just making excuses, but at some point over the last year, I made a conscious decision – not to gain weight back – but to spend less time at the gym, and more time with my youngest daughter.

Without going into too many details, my wife went back to work part-time this September, and I was left with a choice.  I could work out while my daughter was at preschool two times a week, or I could bring her to the gym with me two days a week, and allow the nursery care there to take her.

Another way of putting it, I could have:

  • Two days a week at the gym, two mornings with my daughter.
  • Three days a week at the gym, and zero mornings with my daughter.

It was an easy choice.  For the last year, I’ve spent two mornings a week with my three-year-old.  Sometimes she goes with me to visit shut-ins.  Sometimes she comes with me to the office.  Most of the time, she sits in my lap, on my chair.  She watches cartoons. I read.  She rubs my cheek.  I smell her hair.  At random times we are interrupted by spontaneous tickle fights, or overwhelmed by a sudden need for a bear hug.  We play Uno, or Memory. We put together puzzles or read books.

So yeah, I have put on a few pounds.  My 5K time has gotten a couple minutes slower.  The size 36 pants I got last spring have stayed in the closet.  But every Sunday night I would kiss her goodnight and ask her, “Do you know what tomorrow is?”  And she would smile and shout, “Daddy-Daughter morning!”

I wouldn’t trade those 10 pounds for anything in the world.  I can get back to running more often.  I intend to get refocused this summer, and I hope to run a marathon in September.

Pretty soon she is going to go to school all day, and we won’t have Daddy-Daughter mornings any more.  We’ll have Saturdays, but Saturdays are family days.  For Daddy-Daughter mornings, this was it.  This was the only year I could spend this kind of time with her – probably forever.

For me, fitness is about choices.  It is about making healthy, life-giving choices.  My body has a little more fat on it this April than it did last year, but I’m pretty certain that I’m as fit as I’ve ever been.  

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Pastor Robb is going to sing?

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

(With a tip of the hat to this great article from The Onion – vulgarity warning)

The cast of Riverside and the Center For Living Arts expressed their shock when Director Dino Hayz announced the solo list for their April 18 production of Godspell.

“Pastor Robb is singing?” one cast member, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned.  “I mean, he’s a nice guy and all, and knows his Bible.  But singing?”

Reports indicate that while he has a fairly loud preaching voice, and feels comfortable being in front of people, he’s not exactly a song-and-dance kind of guy.  With no shortage of talented veterans to choose from, Dino Hayz inexplicably asked McCoy to sing one of the biggest songs of the show, “We Beseech Thee.”

“It’s the last fun number of the show,” said anonymous.  “Everyone will want to crucify him, not Jesus.”

McCoy showed some potential in the other three shows he’s been in.  The first was a 50’s Follies show he did in eighth grade at his own church.  Most believe that he only joined that cast because he “might get to hold hands with Christina.”  One witness says that they did, in fact, hold hands, but broke up only a few months after the show.  The causes are still unknown, as the note that ended the relationship has been lost.

His two shows as an adult were last year’s presentation of Godspell, where his vocal limitations were apparent in his two-line solo.  His last production was a play called A Bright Room Called Day. 

“He didn’t even memorize his lines,” said one reviewer of the drama about the rise of Nazism in 1930’s Germany.  Ironically, in both Godspell and Bright Room¸ the ordained United Methodist pastor played Satan.

“He’s a damn good Satan, but I’ve never seen a show where Satan has to sing and dance.  We’ll just have to sing back-up extra loud for this one.”

The show is Friday, April 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Riverside United Methodist Church.  There will be a bake sale before the show and at intermission.  There will also be someone taking bets as to whether or not McCoy will “ever show his face in the church again after this debacle.”

2013 Godspell reflection, part 1

2013 Godspell reflection, part 2

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Raiders of the Lost Cabinet

Cabinet, the board game.

Cabinet, the board game.

So it appears I have set off a fury.  From Nashville to Savannah, the people called Methodists are searching for Cabinet.  I discovered it when a friend shared this picture on his Facebook timeline.  I thought it was outrageous, and decided I would write about it.

Clearly my entrepreneurial skills are lacking.  I should have done the work of finding this precious artifact first, then written the blog post.  There seems to be a growing demand across the connection, and I probably could have cashed in.  Oh well, lesson learned.

raiders_of_the_lost_ark_end

The stacks at MTSO’s library (I think).

Upon not being able to find the game through normal outlets, i.e. Amazon, Cokesbury, Ebay, I was afraid it was lost somewhere in a warehouse in Nashville.  In my research though, I found a copy of the game at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio’s library.  Through the magic of Facebook, this picture was shared with me yesterday.  I’m pretty sure that the game was guarded by the ghost of Francis Asbury.  She had to prove that her heart was pure, or at least moving onward toward purity (or some-such thing).

cabinet game found

April Casperson, Director of Enrollment Management and Scholarship Development at Methodist School of Theology in Ohio.

As you can see, her face is a perfect mix of bemusement and mild disgust.  I can only assume the she is afraid of opening the box, lest her face get melted.  That would be a shame.  She seems to be a perfectly pleasant person, and I would hate for her to end up like this.

In the meantime, there seems to be a groundswell of Methonerd support to find copies of this game.  My friend Melissa Meyers  has promised to bring the game to the attention of someone at United Methodist Publishing.  If it gets re-published, I only have one request: Please let me be a part of the group having a grand ol’ time playing it on the box cover art.

I’m having fun with this. I have chosen to laugh when I see this game, but there is another reaction that I could have.  I have dedicated myself to a system that all-too-often feels like a game.  The only way I can remain sane in the itinerant system is to believe that the members of my conference’s cabinet understand that they are not playing with Pokemon cards, but with peoples’ actual lives.  I believe this is the case. I do.  Every year in appointment season I reaffirm in my own heart and mind the covenant I made with the United Methodist Church, and I submit to the will of my Bishop. I submit my family to the whim of a few people in an a room a few hundred miles away, and trust that they are guided by the Holy Spirit.  That is a huge amount of trust, and the fact that someone that was once given that kind of trust decided to turn that process into a game makes me boil over with rage.  Then I take a deep breath, realize I’m probably taking it all too seriously, and realize it probably is a good teaching tool.  Appointments are a wildly complicated thing to figure out, and this could help people realize how difficult it is.  So I make a joke.

So keep searching, Methodists.  If anyone finds and plays this game, please share your experiences here.

Check out the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, two local pastors talk about the lectionary readings for the week.

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I just added this to my bucket list (and I don’t even have a bucket list)

Cabinet, the board game.

Cabinet, the board game.

My friend and United Methodist colleague Gavin Lance Presley introduced me to this game, and my life will be incomplete until I play it.  It was created by Bishop Dan Solomon, I can only imagine his train of thought before creating this game.

“I’m so sick of people calling me to complain about the appointments I’ve made,” he thought. “If only I could show them how hard it is.” And in a flash of light, the greatest board game since Monopoly was created.  Though some might think that this game must be the parting gift of the worst TV game show ever, I feel like I have to play it.  Cabinet can actually be found at the library of Methodist Theology School in Ohio.  All I could think of is, “ROAD TRIP!”  I’m packing 7-15 of my favorite Methodists in a van and going.  Tomorrow.

According to the online catalog description, this game includes “1 director’s manual, 16 participant’s manuals, 2 lay advocate’s guides, 2 clergy advocate’s guides, 50 declension and data sheets, 16 name tags with 16 plastic holders, 10 envelopes for superintendents (2 sets of 5), 4 sets of color-coded file cards ; in box 24 x 31 x 4 cm.”

This is a game that is so beautifully Methodist, I’m almost in tears.  This is a game with not one but two different manuals, two kinds of guides, (my heart is aflutter) 50 declension sheets, and FOUR SETS OF COLOR CODED FILE CARDS.  I don’t even know what a declension sheet is, but I know I want one.  I’m guessing it is sort of like a Pastor’s pokemon card, with all of their stats and hit points on it.  I think mine would be ATTACK 68, DEFENSE 78, PREACHING 87, TEACHING 92, ADMINISTERING SACRAMENTS 87, ORDERING LIFE OF THE CHURCH 33.

I have to find this game for sale somewhere.  I think I would probably pay dozens of dollars for it.

The saga to find Cabinet has been updated

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Reblogged: “Ten things your Pastor wishes you knew about her”

My friend and colleague, Mike Rayson, shared a blog post on this Facebook timeline the other day.  It was called “9 Things You Need to Know About Your Pastor”. It was an interesting article.  And when I say, “It is interesting,” I mean that in the same way as I do when someone shares with me an article by Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen. “Oh, pastor, did you see that article by Joel Osteen I shared with you?”

“Yes, it was very interesting.”

You see, while the post did bring up a few noteworthy points, it was difficult to wade through its gender bias. When I last checked, there were 133 comments on the blog. If I were to add one, it would read: “I will add No. 10 – He’s a woman.”

Mike’s wife Amy Rayson wrote this blog “Ten Things Your Pastor Wishes You Knew About Her”.  Coincidentally, I am told, she had written this post a few days before he shared the “9 things” post, but it seemed to be a perfect response nonetheless.

Amy writes:

1. She is not a woman pastor.
She is a pastor. No one says, “This is Pastor Steve – he’s a man pastor.”
Having her gender attached to her job title as a (dis)qualifier diminishes both her, and the role of pastor.
2. Yes, she has read 1 Timothy 2:12.
Also 1 Corinthians 14:34.
Often. In fact it is likely she has spent many, many, many more hours than you pouring over and wrestling with those texts.
3. She doesn’t do it for the fun of it.
She has argued, wrestled, cried, lamented, and railed against her call.
She has been to Tarshish many times on her way to Nineveh. She does not exist to make a point, to make waves, or to make you mad. She is (and should be) obedient to her God, not to her critics.
4. She is soft.
She is soft not because of her gender, but as all people are soft – by nature of the biological and psychological reality of humanity. She works to REMAIN soft, despite the abrasions and burns of life. Because only psychopaths are content to be hardened and heartless.
5. She has been hurt.
Recently. Possibly by you.
It is a tough gig.
When she is hurt she is like an athlete competing on a broken foot. But she keeps doing her job anyway, because she is obedient to her call. Your positive feedback and encouragement on the job she is doing help her heal from those hurts more than you can imagine.
6. She loves her family.
Not all pastors have children, but all have some kind of group of humans she calls family.
If you hurt them, you hurt her and reduce her ability to be effective in ministry. Yes, she will devote some of her time and energy to the care of her family. This is good and scriptural. She loves it when you support her in this.
She does not put church first and family second. She puts God above all things. God takes care of the priorities from there.
7. She has a title.
She may prefer you to use it. She may prefer to be called by name.
But if you do use a title use the correct one.
She may be Jane, or Pastor Jane… but she is NEVER Miss Jane.
Yes, this includes when you introduce her to someone outside of your church or religious group. When you introduce your doctor to a friend you don’t demote him to ‘Mr.’ Even Protestants call the Roman Catholic leader  ‘Pope’.
If you can’t respect her, at least respect the office.
8. She is not a feminist.
Or she is. Really that’s up to her. By definition, a feminist is simply ‘a person who supports the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.’
But she is not automatically a feminist by virtue of her gender or profession.
It is likely, however, that  she has spent at least some time wishing people would be less genderist (look it up).
9. She wishes she had a ‘clergy wife’.
(She has this point in common with her male colleagues.)
Single or married, she has heard of these mythical creatures who play piano , lead Sunday School classes, keep the home and any children clean fed and happy. . . and she would LOVE to have one of them! Who wouldn’t?
Sounds awesome!
Instead (if she is married) she has a spouse who is her partner in the home, and who holds their own position of value in the world; possibly, even, a position of paid employment. Her spouse (if she has one) is not an unpaid, extra church staff member. Take your church issues up with her, not her spouse (or her kids).
10. I do not speak for her.
She shook her head at least once while reading this. She is diverse and unique and her story is her own.
And she would love an opportunity to share that story with you.
11. She makes mistakes.
See? Even in counting points in a blog post.
She makes mistakes, not by nature of being female, but because she is a flawed, broken human being who is redeemed only through the grace of God. She craves forgiveness just as badly any other person.
Thank you, Amy.  I know I will never truly understand the crap that my female clergy colleagues have to go through, but I am thankful for their courage, strength, faith, and prophetic leadership.  I know that the Church is a stronger body because of the gifts and graces of so many women pastors. And there I go again – making mistake #1.
Here’s a “Valentine’s Day” card I made this year:
anna howard shaw

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February 28, 2014 · 10:17 am

Boiling water turns to snow in an instant

Tonight it was -8 degrees.  The windchill is -27.  So I put a pot of water on to boil, took it outside, and threw it up into the air.  Most of it turned to snow before it hit the ground.  I got a face full of snow, but it was boiling water a moment before it hit me.  Kind of trippy.  I never thought I’d have to type these words on my blog but please, don’t try this at home.

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Sometimes the best way to dance is to just put your feet on Daddy’s, and hold on.

Dancing on Daddy

 

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